How to Punish a Child Who Doesn’t Seem to Care

As a parent, you’ve probably been at your wit’s end when your child doesn’t respond to punishment. So, how do you change the result and get a child to listen?

No child is perfect and they aren’t going to listen 100% of the time. To raise respectful human beings, parents must use punishment from time to time, especially when a child doesn’t listen.

If your child isn’t respecting you, there’s no way he or she will feel they have to respect any authority as they grow up. You’ve tried discipline, though, and your child simply doesn’t care.

What’s a parent to do?

Learn the ABCs: Always Be Consistent

Raising small human beings is hard work. For your child to respect and respond to punishment, you must be consistent. Set boundaries and follow them.

Start consistency at a young age as well. Around the age of 2-3, children are trying to understand how their behavior affects people around them.

“You will give your child mixed signals if you discipline them for a certain behavior but ignore it the next time,” says Claire Lerner, LCSW.

Know Your Child’s Triggers

What sets your toddler off? Some behavioral issues can be avoided if you know of a certain trigger. For example, say every time you visit the park, and it’s time to leave, your toddler throws a tantrum.

What if you were to start telling your child the following, “You have 10 minutes left to play” and then “You have 5 minutes left before we leave.” This is a great way to give him or her a warning, so you aren’t just automatically pulling him from his favorite area.

If your child throws this tantrum, not giving him a warning is probably his trigger. Abruptly saying “let’s go” doesn’t work for him. You may be able to avoid a misbehavior by giving that warning.

Use a Consequence That Has Meaning

When you use consequences, the simpler you can allow things to be. Don’t give a long speech as your child is still young yet. However, lay out the ground rules, explain which bad behavior they showed and the consequence for that behavior.

If this is the first time for the behavior, give him or her a warning, so they will know what will happen if they do it again. For example, “If you write on the walls again, this is what will happen” or “If you hit your sister again, you are going to lose your favorite dinosaur for the day.”

Just like adults having consequences for behaviors, kids need to learn as well. Using this strategy is usually highly effective for a toddler who doesn’t normally care when being punished – Who wants to get their favorite things taken away?

Have a Problem-Solving Conversation

It’s critical to have a problem-solving conversation with your toddler when the misbehavior occurs. Instead of just telling your child, “no!” or “get in the corner, now” you can say something like, “What can you do next time instead of act this way?”

Sometimes having a conversation like this will show your child you’re trying to help them and not just punish them. While kids do need discipline, they also need to learn how to cope with situations to avoid acting in the way that leads them to the time out.

What the Experts Say

“When a child with no prior behavioral issues demonstrates challenging emotions, I start asking questions relating to the child’s physical and chemical stressors,”

Dr. Jennifer Barham, author of several parenting books, including Ticklish.


“Decrease aggression by saying, “I know it’s hard not to get your way. I don’t like that feeling either.” Show compassion without giving in to the child’s demands.

Dr. Markham, clinical psychologist


“Some children act out when they’re hungry, overtired, or frustrated from being cooped up inside.”

Harvey Karp, MD, creator of The Happiest Toddler on the Block


“Don’t get emotional. When a child is flooded with a parent’s negative mood, he’ll see the emotion and won’t hear what you’re saying.”

William Coleman, MD
Heather Burdo

Heather is a freelance writer from New York. She has a passion for health and parenting. Heather has written for the Gluten-Free Living magazine,, Project Eve Moms, and others.

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